Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott

Simply put, Megan Abbott is my new favorite writer. Her run of The Song Is You (2007), Queenpin (2007), and Bury Me Deep (2009) is nothing short of utterly impressive. Fully steeped in the crime and pulp genres of the 50s, Abbott is knocking out deliciously rewarding page-turners, channeling Cain, Chandler, and Ellroy. Her work is pulpy, sexy, and gritty. Beyond that, she’s a great writer. Sentences roll off the pen, stories unfold, pages get turned.

Bury Me Deep is the latest, and damn is it good. It starts a bit slowly, but once it gets rolling, it’s a steamroller that can’t be put down. Loosely based on the Trunk Murderess/Blond Butcher scandal of the 30s, the book follows the travails of Marion Seeley, a wayward doctor’s wife. Due to a morphine addiction he can’t shake, the doctor has lost his medical license and heads to Mexico for work, leaving his wife behind to fend for herself in a small desert community in Arizona. Alone and forsaken by her husband, Marion falls in with two party girls—a nurse she meets at the clinic where she is working, and her sidekick who continues to party while battling t.b. Marion gets caught up in the thrill of it all—the parties, the flirtations, the sultry nights, and the men. She ultimately dives deep into an illicit affair with a respected businessman, who, as it turns out, is far from respectable.

But what makes Bury Me Deep so great is that lurking beneath the standard pulp plotline is a story resonating with emotional depth. Abbott offers up a world where good people, in moments of weakness, make bad choices that lead to disastrous results. The heart of the book lies within Marion as she battles with herself. Her inner-turmoil is profound. Why does she rush headlong into an affair she knows is wrong? Is it so wrong? Why can’t she stop? Is her betrayal due to loneliness or is her betrayal a sign of who she truly is? And when everything goes wrong, how do you figure out who your true friends are? How do you handle yourself when all your friends abandon you? And when you abandon them? And most importantly, how do you make amends? How do you take responsibility for your own actions? How do you live with yourself when the way you behave doesn’t jibe with who you think you are?

In this respect, Bury Me Deep resonates beyond the pulp milieu, mining emotional depths often lacking in much of the genre. Sure, it’s a town filled with party girls with shady pasts and uncertain futures; it’s a town run by men, driven by deceit, corruption, and privilege; it’s a town with questionable sexual mores, filled with addictions and unhealthy itches; a town filled with lung disease. But in Bury Me Deep, the stories do in fact run much deeper.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

UH OH! It's The Best of The Decade

Yikes! Has it already been 10 years since the Y2K scare? Mindboggling. In any event, I’m really not much of a list person and was in no way planning on doing a best of the decade list. But last night, my buddy Chris planted that seed in my brain and here we go. Let me assure you, this is by no means comprehensive or even well thought out. I’ve given it about 12 hours thought, and most of that time I was sleeping.

The 00s are a funny time frame for me when it comes to music consumption. My son was born in 2001 and that definitely changed the way I found out about and listened to music. Going to shows and discovering bands through the live experience decreased drastically. A lot of new music I heard came from friends burning me cds and sharing files. This was a big departure from the 80s and 90s, which was all about discovering music in the clubs. Also, with a newborn on hand, the amount of loud, clattery, in the red music listening dropped sharply as well. The house was a quieter, calmer place. 2001-2004 was all about the folk, country, blues trip. Old records that my young son could relate to were in heavy rotation. John Fahey, Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, Harry Smith’s Anthology of Folk Music, The Watson Family. That was the order of the day.

Not a lot of new material came my way in the early part of the decade, but looking back lots of good stuff came my way. This list features records that were in mighty heavy rotation. I’m sure I’ll kick myself tomorrow for leaving some things off this list, but I stand behind all that’s listed below.

Bevis Frond—Valedictory Songs, 2000
The mighty Frond. What would the 90s have been without you? Majestic Hendrix like leads. Fanclubbish pop sensibilities. Prog pretensions. Massive guitar freak outs. Endearing, plaintive vocals. Nick Solomon’s 90s output was unparalleled in my universe. Things cooled off in the 00s, but Valedictory Songs was as stellar as any of his great releases from the previous decade.

Neko Case—Furnace Room Lullaby, 2000
For 12 years, I’d spend my summers teaching in Valencia, CA. The burbs of LA. I’d venture into LA from time to time, but for the most part, I reveled in being holed up in my dorm room on the campus of Cal Arts, reading books, listening to music on a boom box. I’d usually spend one afternoon at the local Borders with the mission of buying one or two cds that I had heard about, but hadn’t heard. In 2000, that would have been Neko Case’s Furnace Room Lullaby. The hype surrounding Ms. Case has been thick ever since the release of this record. All subsequent records have gotten more hype and a growing fan base, but for me, this is the one. There is none better. The songs, the voice, the mood. Five star all the way. South Tacoma Way is easily in contention for song of the decade. I still remember listening to this record on the drive back to San Fran, stereo cranked, loving every second of it.

Dirty Three—Whatever You Love, You Are, 2000
No one sets a mood like The Dirty Three and this is one of their best. The tour for this was unbelievable. Who knew an instrumental band fronted by a violinist could rock so hard? As a bonus, this period Dirty Three featured Warren Ellis without facial hair. He had yet to grow that distracting mountain man beard. I don’t know why this should matter, but it just does.

New Pornographers—Mass Romantic, 2000
My wife had always championed Zumpano. I never fully got on board with them, but I was hooked when she bought this one. Strangely, she never fully got on board with the Pornographers. In any event, as the decade unfolded, I found myself more attracted to bands with a pop sensibility. The New Pornographers could be ground zero for that dalliance. I suppose any of their records could be included on this list, so I’m just going to go with the first one.

White Stripes—De Stijl, 2000,
White Stripes—White Blood Cells, 2001
Loved the debut record in 1999 and with a baby on the way in 2001, I always joked that the White Stripes were gonna be the last band I got in on the ground floor with. The back-to-back, one-two punch of these records took this band to another level. An amazing amalgamation of garage, dirty blues, and Zeppelin-like riffs.

Dirtbombs—Ultraglide in Black, 2001
Detroit Cobras—Life, Love and Leaving, 2001
What can I say? Two great covers records. R&B, soul, and rock and roll scorchers. I still listen to both of these records…a lot.

Damon & Naomi—With Ghost, 2000
Ghost—Hypnotic Underworld, 2005

Boris with Kurihara—Rainbow, 2007

I love all these bands and am a fan of most of their releases. Obviously the through line is Michio Kurihara, guitarist extraordinaire. Love that guy. Love these records. Damon and Naomi hadn’t gotten too precious yet, and throwing Ghost into the mix created a perfect compliment to their wispy, fruity, psychedelic sounds.

Hypnotic Underworld
was monstrous, jazzy, Floydian, and choc-full of Eastern flourishes. It captures Ghost at their most focused and adventurous.

Boris meets Kurihara. Beautiful. Metal. Krautrock. Grooves.

Gillian Welch—Time (The Revelator), 2001
I loved this record to start with. But it soon became my son’s bedtime record for almost a year. And for that, it will always have a place in my heart. Beautiful on so many fronts.

Bardo Pond—Dilate, 2001
People laugh at me for liking this band as much as I do. But I do, so there! Dilate is my fave. I still pull it out from time to time. The slow build of Two Planes, the loping hook of Inside. Two of my fave tracks of the decade.

Mekons—OOOH!, 2002
Buying Mekons records in the 80s and 90s was a frequent occurrence. Sometime around Retreat From Memphis either I lost the thread or they did. A couple ho-hum records. A couple of records not purchased. I gave this one a try and it’s a great record. The 25th Anniversary shows around this time were also unbelievable. Long live The Mekons.

Fiery Furnaces—Gallowsbird's Bark, 2003
Plain and simple, a great, bristling rock record. Fiery, indeed! I had trouble sinking into their follow-up, Blueberry Boat. Too many twists and turns for my likes and I never really got back on the Fiery Furnace train. But Gallowsbird's Bark still sounds fresh whenever I listen to it.

Joanna Newsom—The Milk Eyed Mender, 2004
A harp. A weird voice. Yet captivating and catchy beyond belief. Revelatory, even. Remember Freak Folk? This was the best of that moment in time.

Bonnie Prince Billy & Matt Sweeney—Superwolf, 2005
Well, the Bonnie Prince keeps cranking them out. I See A Darkness is still his best of the last 11 years, but that came out in 1999, so I’m going with this one. The guitar interplay is pretty darn cool, and the songs are memorable. The weird cheesecloth, inner sleeve always made this difficult to put back in the case, so it was just as easy to leave it in the cd player and listen to it again.

Six Organs of Admittance—School Of The Flower, 2005
Comets On Fire—Avatar, 2006
Loved the School of The Flower record. At times noisy, at times spacey, at times droney, at times folksy. A great mix of the above elements from Ben Chasny. And speaking of Chasny, Avatar by the Comets sheds some of the frantic overdrive of earlier efforts for a more sprawling, dusty psych vibe, laced with some 70s muscle.

Califone—Roots and Crowns, 2006
Everything from the Red Red Meat family tree has been an instant buy in my book. Califone is a band that has hit dizzying heights on certain releases. Strangely, I almost didn’t buy this record. I liked their previous couple, but like many bands moving into their middle period, there was a sameness in sound creeping into their records that, while not bad, just failed to get the pulse racing. With Roots and Crowns, Califone may have released the album of their career. Moody and textured, filled with great songs. Dusty and forlorn, yet full of life. The cover of Psychic TVs' Orchids is unbelievable, as is the whole record.

Neil Young—Live At The Fillmore East, 2006
OK, this one is from the archive series. But it got released in 2006, so I’m counting it. Crazy Horse raging full on in 1970. Transcendent.

Grinderman, 2007
Nick Cave has had a pretty great second half of the decade as far as I’m concerned. This more stripped down rocking affair seemed to knock him out of his piano-based ballad, melodrama orbit. That wasn’t a bad place to be, mind you, but like Califone above, there was a bit of a been there, done that vibe to some of the early decade output. Grinderman and its follow up, Dig, Lazarus, Dig, showcase Cave with a refreshing, nastier edge.

Times New Viking—Present The Paisley Reich, 2007
Ah, the clatter. Ah, the caterwaul. Ah, the remote sense of song. This cd was a staple in the boombox in the summer of 2007.

Wilco—Sky Blue Sky, 2007
I always looked at Wilco somewhat skeptically. They always sounded good, but they wore their influences on their sleeves in such an obvious way. At times they sounded like the Replacements, Neil Young, Stereolab, etc… Sky Blue won me over though. Secret weapon Nels Cline finally took them to a new and unique place. Great tour as well. I crossed over into fandom.

Amy Winehouse—Back To Black, 2007
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings—100 Days, 100 Nights, 2007
Richard Hawley—Lady’s Bridge, 2007
She & Him—Volume 1, 2008
Hey, it’s people with great pipes channeling other eras in a pretty unique, original or derivative but fun way. I say yes to all of them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Serious Man by The Coen Brothers

As I’ve mentioned previously, I run hot and cold when it comes to the Brothers Coen. I think I surprised even myself by really loving last year’s Burn After Reading. The Coen’s are back with A Serious Man. Given that it’s set in a late 60s, Jewish suburban milieu, I was really psyched to see it. Finally, a movie about my people. And let me say this about that. It turns out, A Serious Man may be the most Jewish movie to hit the mainstream since Fiddler on The Roof. And for that, I loved it. So many great jokes that non-Jews may not even recognize as jokes abound. Conversations in Hebrew and Yiddish go by without the benefit of translation. Cultural and religious references fill the scenes and The Coens make no attempt to explain those moments to a broader audience. Again, I loved that. I loved that my culture just existed in a movie without having to pander or explain itself to the dominant culture. That said, I’m not surprised the film seems to be dying a slow box office death. I can’t see non-Jews digging this movie. And for that matter, I can’t see most Jews digging it either. It’s a pretty unsympathetic portrayal of the Jewish experience. The women are bitches, the men are nebbishes, the rabbis are fools, and the kids are narcissistic or drug-addled. In other words, the suburban Jews of the world will probably hate this movie. I’m sure much of the Jewish community is thinking, ‘Finally a movie about our people, by our people, and we still come across like a bunch of shmendricks.’ I’ll give The Coens a pass on that one. Coen Brothers’ movies are always filled with flawed, pathetic characters. A Serious Man is no different in that regard, but this time they turn their sites on their own upbringing. And that’s ok in my world.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bowl Of Cherries by Millard Kaufman

I’ve been curious about Millard Kaufman’s Bowl of Cherries since it was released. Kaufman penned the brilliant Bad Day At Black Rock, a movie whose language still sizzles. Catch it on TCM one of these nights and you’ll hang on every word. I had the good fortune of meeting Kaufman 10 years back. I booked him for a speaking gig at The Film Arts Foundation when I worked there. He was sharp, affable, and a delightful old guy. Bowl of Cherries is a beautifully packaged book courtesy of the McSweenys people. I grabbed it out of the library a couple weeks back and dug in.

The language is beautiful. It’s funny, clever, and playful. Kaufman has a wonderful way with words. His love of the English language and the written word is evident. Stylistically it was an interesting throwback to the kind of work I devoured during the college years. It’s steeped in the type of satire and world-view exhibited by the likes of Barthes, Pynchon, Vonnegut, Robbins, and Heller. Bowl of Cherries is inhabited by a world of thinkers, philosophers, and academics embracing life, puzzled by life, and trying to find answers in life. Like the works of those listed above, wackiness and whimsy are on full display. Strange circumstances get us from the Deep South to Yale to rural Colorado and then to prison in Iraq.

Unfortunately though, I can’t say I loved the book. Sadly, I was disinterested. The story itself was ultimately not that compelling. Broad and satirical, yet the satire never fully landed. Hundreds of pages in I wasn’t entirely sure where the story was going, or what the book was even about. All told, Bowl of Cherries was an odd read that was pleasurable from word-to-word, from sentence-to-sentence, but unfulfilling from pillar-to-post.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ray Davies--Well Respected Man

I tend to avoid re-union shows and seeing shows by rockers past their prime. But every now and then, I get an itch to see a rock icon who’s moving up in years. Growing up, people always used to ask questions like, “Who do you like better—The Stones or The Beatles?” Maybe I was just being difficult, but I always said, “The Kinks.” And truth be told, The Kinks have always meant more to me than The Stones or The Beatles. I never saw The Kinks play and I’ve never seen Ray Davies on a solo tour. Strangely, I did see Dave Davies on a solo tour, which was like seeing a Kinks cover band that happened to feature Dave Davies. In any event, last night, Ray Davies was playing in SF, backed by a 28-person choir, in support of his new record The Kinks Choral Collection. After some waffling over the ticket price and being egged on by a gaggle of Facebook friends, I decided I’d be a fool to miss one of my favorite rockers, musicians and songwriters, so off I went.

Interestingly the show perfectly exemplified why you both should and shouldn’t see a rock star past their prime. Davies was clearly energized, happy to be there and cheerfully playing hit after hit after hit. The number of amazing Kinks songs is staggering. And seeing 2 hours worth of gems played back to back puts one in total awe of Davies' accomplishments. The show's arrangement was a bonus as well. Davies played the first half hour or so on acoustic guitar, while being accompanied by another guitarist playing a hollow-bodied electric. Stripped down versions of I Need You, I’m Not Like Everybody Else, Autumn Almanac all were sounding good. He was then accompanied by a full band for about another half hour and the rock quotient went up. After a short break the band was back with a full 28-person choir adding the vocal chops. This section was the highlight of the set, as Davies and company dug deep into Arthur and The Village Green era songbook. Picture Book, Do You Remember Walter?, Village Green, Shangri-la, and Victoria all got the choral arrangement. At times the chorus got a bit drowned out by the rock band and at times Davies got a bit drowned out by the chorus, but as the set progressed, I was sucked in. The two stand out songs may have been a haunting acapella version of See My Friends, and the biting Celluloid Heroes. Set closers Waterloo Sunset and Days were nothing to scoff at either.

On the down side, and I hate to say it, Davies voice isn’t what it once was. It’s not bad, but he doesn’t have the range he once did. So many Kinks songs are packed with emotion or bite courtesy of great turns of phrase and the great command Davies had over his unique voice. He was definitely singing the songs, but he just didn’t seem to own them. The vocal delivery lacked the nuance so critical to the Kinks’ success. So yes, there was hit after hit, and yes the band sounded good, and yes the arrangements were cool, but there was that slight nagging sense that it could have been better and it was once better, but that ship has sailed. And maybe it’s an aging rocker thing, but the crowd sing-alongs were pretty out of control. Very 80s arena rock. Turning the mic on the crowd, encouraging audience participation, calls for hand clapping. Every now and again, why not? But almost every song?? Does Autumn Almanac really call for audience participation? Not in my book. All Day & All of The Night is a barnburner at two and a half minutes. Do we need a 1-minute break in the middle for some crowd call and response? That’s a buzz kill in my book. It’s been ages since I listened to the One For the Road live record, but I’m thinking a lot was stolen from that playbook, which I’m not feeling in 2009.

At the end of the day though, I’m glad I went, because today, Kinks songs are buzzing through my head. And that’s a good thing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Flaming Lips: Embryonic

I’ve loved The Flaming Lips forever. They’re a band you can get behind. A feel good, indie rock success story. A band that got better as they aged and got rewarded for the effort. That said, I almost didn’t buy Embryonic, their new release. Maybe it’s Flaming Lips fatigue, but I just haven’t loved the last several records. While nice when they show up in shuffle, Yoshimi and War With the Mystics are two records that have had little staying power in my book. In the past several years the band seems to have set its sights on a sugary sweet brand of psychedelia. They’ve become a feel good party band. While their brand of sunshiny day, psychedelic optimism isn’t bad, I have to admit to liking my psych with a bit more of a psych ward edge.

I decided to take a chance on the new one based on a couple of factors. The fine folks at Aquarius Records were raving about the record on their list. Their review led me to believe that perhaps the Lips had found a new musical vein to mine. Also, a quick look at the reviews in the iTunes store caught my eye. People raving about how bad it was and how horrid the production sounded piqued my interest. A couple of one-star reviews from people downloading MP3s, then complaining about the album’s sound quality was enough to convince me that, perhaps, purchasing the cd was in order.

I’ve only listened to the record once, but I’m tempted to say this is their best record in ages. Possibly one of their best ever. Embryonic is a refreshing blast. Propulsive bass-lines abound and creepy vibes pervade. Embryonic is a soundtrack, not for the summer festival circuit, but for someone trapped watching Christmas on Mars ’til the end of time. It’s got edge. It’s got grit. It’s got ice in its veins. It’s a late night record for a late night that might turn sour. The Flaming Lips have always been a band that has thrived when they’ve taken artistic chances, be it performance art trips like the Boom Box Experiments or Zaireeka, be it shedding guitars on The Soft Bulletin, be it turning to a more pop sensibility with Transmissions From The Satellite Heart. Embryonic finds them taking a move away from the pop and finding inspiration elsewhere. I’m hearing more Can than Beatles this time through and that’s a move I can get behind.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Crime by Irvine Welsh

I’ve always been a big Irvine Welsh fan, but I must admit to being severely bummed out by last year’s If You Liked School, You’ll Love Work. I had to put it down ¼ of the way through and had a sinking feeling that either he had totally lost it, or I had been wrong for liking him in the first place. My wife got me Crime for Father’s Day this year and I’ve been avoiding it for fear of not liking it. I finally picked it up and let me say, I couldn’t be more pleased. I loved this book.

The book exhibits a refreshing maturity. So many of Welsh’s early works are steeped in a youthful exuberance--a headlong dash into youth culture. And that’s fine. But Welsh is older now, as is much of his audience. Crime is steeped with middle-aged fragility. I loved that. It seems honest. Rather than re-living a storied, debauched past, Crime addresses concerns one faces when the party is over.

Crime focuses on Ray Lennox, an Edinburgh cop, obsessed with tracking down pedophiles. Lennox has gone off the rails following a case that has gone bad. In classic Welsh form, drug and drinking binges abound. Lennox heads to Miami to detox with his bride-to-be. Their hope for r & r in the Sunshine State quickly goes South. After a pre-marital quarrel, Lennox takes off on a bender and gets hooked up with an unsavory batch of characters. Lennox can’t leave well enough alone and, mercenary-style, tries to solve the problems of these shady people he barely knows. Full of good intentions but rife with horrid judgments, things go from bad to worse and the shit thickens frighteningly as Lennox gets immersed in the dirt and grime he tried to leave back in Edinburgh.

But the guts and gore aside, Lennox takes a journey deep inside himself--a journey where he needs to face all the misgivings, shame, and self-loathing in his own life. On the outside, he’s a tough Scottish cop, in control of all that he sees. On the inside, he’s falling apart. He’s too much of a tough guy to admit it or to seek out the help he so desperately needs. Will he sink into the same old patterns, or will he emerge a stronger, better, more fully realized person?

Like most of Welsh’s material there’s a lot of degradation, but as the grit falls away, you’re left with characters in the throes of mid-life growing pains. Crime is filled with people navigating the world in the best way they can. Not always with grace, but with heart.

Friday, October 23, 2009

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Got to give a shout out to my wife, Alison. She’s been working with Camper Van Beethoven bassist, Victor Krummenacher, on an awesome music project called McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Their first CD Time For Leaving has just been released and you should check it out. They’re definitely shooting for a Richard and Linda Thompson vibe. It’s an invigorating amalgamation of English folk, roadhouse blues, country stylings, and somber introspection. Any fan of roots music, blues, and No Depression style Americana should take a listen. If you’re in San Francisco, be sure to check out some upcoming live shows. Live, the band has transformed into a different beast altogether. Dropping any pretense of quiet solitude, the live show is a barn-burning, tear-it-up throwdown. They’ve recently added Doug Hilsinger, my favorite San Francisco guitarist, to the line-up. Doug's addition has amped up the show in a great way. You’ve got to dig a band that brings a different vibe in the live set from the studio set.

• You can check out upcoming show dates on their MySpace Page.

• You can download Time For Leaving from iTunes. You can buy the physical product from CD Baby. The cd is packaged in a snazzy letterpress package that I designed.

For your listening pleasure I’ve posted two songs. Time For Leaving is a stunning beauty. We’re working on a video for that one. Fare Thee Well is crackling, dirty blues at its best. I’ve included a YouTube video of the latter and if you watch that after listening to the studio track, you can hear the transformation from tight studio band to live behemoth.

Revisiting Monty Python

I love comedy, yet I constantly bemoan the state of comedy as it plays out on tv and in the movies. There’s definitely a lot of good stuff out there, but more often than not, I’m left feeling a little disappointed with the majority of it. This week, I’ve been knee deep in the 6-part Monty Python doc on IFC, Monty Python: Almost The Truth. I can’t tell you how much I’m digging it. I loved Python to death when I discovered it back in the 5th or 6th grade. I used to show up to school and drive my friends crazy with my horrid reenactments of the show, faux British accent and all. It’s been years since I’ve paid much attention to Python and I’m usually pretty disheartened when I see John Cleese or Eric Idle in anything contemporary. But that said, I’m loving revisiting such an early influence on my life. I won’t get into much detail here, but the thing that I’m most blown away by is how damn smart the show was. The troupe’s love of language is paramount. Nothing is dumbed down. Art, culture, and literature references abound. Some skits revolve solely around playing with language. It’s not a passive viewing experience. The viewer is expected to keep up.

Python were a huge success and a prime example that you don’t have to play to the lowest common denominator. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of dumb, absurdist, and downright silly bits. The Fish Slapping Dance for example, and perhaps my fave Python sketch, Upplerclass Twit of The Year. Nothing too erudite there. But Python was willing to mix highbrow and lowbrow. Perhaps nobody did it better. So much comedy now plays straight to the lowest common denominator and is neutered of anything smart. Too bad. Comedy can be this good. I've thrown in the Argument Clinic sketch below. A beautiful example of a skit that plays with language while being utterly silly at the same time. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let's Talk About Hockey

I don’t think I’ll be inundating the blogsphere with much hockey reportage this year, but the season is upon us, so what the hell. Here are my two bit opinions about the Sharks.

On Being A Sharks Fan
The Sharks and their fans seem to have become the butt of many jokes on the hockey boards. The Sharks, thanks to their ability to tank in the playoffs, and the fans, for having to watch brilliant regular seasons end in humiliating playoff losses. No offense to the perennially underfunded (Edmonton), the perennially mismanaged (Rangers), the perennially one-dimensional (Calgary), or the perennially unimportant (Atlanta, Florida, Isles), but I’ll gladly root for a team that is regularly competitive and a threat to win it all. Sure, a handful of the above teams have made it to the cup finals in recent years, but sorry Oilers, that was a fluke and you probably didn’t make the playoffs the next year.

On Dany Heatley
I for one am psyched Dany Heatley is now a Shark. I know he comes with baggage. Can’t get along with coaches, doesn’t hustle when he’s not happy, doesn’t back check, and then there are those nagging rumors of partying, not to mention the manslaughter charges. All I know is the guy is a pure goal scorer. No offense to Jonathan Cheechoo, Patrick Marleau, Pat Falloon, Kelly Kisio, or Owen Nolan, but the Sharks have never, ever, ever had a pure goal scorer. With the addition of Heatley, the Sharks top line now has the NHL’s best playmaker teamed up with a top scorer. That spells danger and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Heatley take the Rocket Richard trophy for top goal scorer this year. I know. You’re thinking, who cares about the regular season. Fair enough. But I think Heatley’s addition in the playoffs will be huge. Thornton certainly has his post-season detractors, mostly former Boston fans. Don’t get me started on Boston fans. Here’s my take. Thornton is a playmaker. A playmaker can’t carry a team through the playoffs if his line mates are stiffs. If the line mates are stiffs, the defense can key on Thornton and it all gets shut down. In his first several playoff campaigns, Thornton was solid. Maybe not amazing, but solid. He stunk it up last year, but look at what surrounded him. Setoguchi was horrid. He couldn’t get across the blue line without setting someone offside. And Marleau, apparently, was playing on one leg. A healthy Heatley and Thornton will create major headaches for Western Conference defenses. And you know what, Western Conference defenses aren’t gonna be as stellar this year as last. Pronger is gone, Zubov is gone, Lidstrom is older.

On Marleau
A lot of hate was heaped Patrick Marleau’s way in the off-season. I’m glad they finally took the “C“ away from Patty. The guy’s a solid player but he may be the world’s most boring sports interview, and that’s saying a lot. I just can’t see that guy rallying the troops. But that said, I’m glad he’s still on the team. He’s never more than a 70-point guy, but that’s ok if he’s anchoring your second line. With Heatley on board, Marleau doesn’t have to be the dominant offensive threat anymore.

On Nabakov
A lot of people have been hating on Nabby in the off-season. I can’t help but think these are the same people who were saying he was ripped off when he didn’t win the Vezina two years back. I’ve always been a Nabby supporter. He didn’t have a great playoffs last year, but I’ll cut him slack. The team lost because they couldn’t score. Plus their defense was sloppy. And he was also coming back off of injury. Maybe he wasn’t 100%. In any event, before he gets run out of town, I still think he’s in the top echelon of NHL goaltenders. Plus, I don’t think the Sharks have much in their system right now. And ask the good people of Philly and Ottawa who have had Cup contending teams wrecked by substandard goaltending. You need a quality goaltender to win it all and the Sharks do. The Blackhawks are a cup favorite this year, but you know what, I don’t trust that Huet fellow. It could all fall apart for them there. Philly and Washington might be in the same boat as well. I’ll take Nabby over the netminders on all those teams.

So What Does It All Mean?
I’m not going to make any predictions, cause that’s just cause for heartache, but the Western Conference, which used to be a beast, ain’t so fearsome right now. The Wings didn’t get better and I think Anaheim got worse with the loss of Pronger. The Hawks got better, but they have a big question mark in goal. Calgary’s defense got better, but they have a lot of questions on offense. Vancouver, maybe they’re as good as the were. So who knows? As always, the Sharks are looking good on paper.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

When I started reading Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I couldn’t help but notice the number of reviews on the book jacket that compared Tattoo to the work of Ingmar Bergman. It’s as if Bergman is the only point of cultural reference a non-Swede could make. Strikes me as lazy, because after downing six hundred pages of this modern crime novel, I can’t think of anything even remotely Bergman-esque about Dragon Tattoo. Dark, brooding, and artsy this book is not. Interestingly within the book itself, Larsson name drops IKEA several times, and for me, if you need to compare the book to something Swedish, IKEA works pretty well. The writing of the book is clean-lined, well put together, crisp and easy to read. It’s a far cry from the murky, confused depths of Persona. It’s a page-turner that goes down smoothly.

Dragon Tattoo focuses on Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist taking aim at the corporate world and Lisbeth Salander , a tattooed, computer-hacker punk , who team up to uncover a decades-old murder mystery, and along the way, set their sites on taking down one of Sweden’s most corrupt CEOs. I suppose I should be turned on by the notion of a tattooed, punk rock chick righting social wrongs and living by her own moral code. Hell, I am the target for just such a character. But honestly, I felt the college-educated, urban sophisticate Blomkvist character resonated with a lot more truth than the fringe-dwelling Salander. That said, I liked the book a lot and will probably read the follow up. But I’m not running out to the bookstore or library to track it down just yet. If you have to read only one crime novel featuring a female protagonist this year, I’d give the nod to Megan Abbott’s Queenpin. It’s a different beast than Dragon Tattoo, more murky, dark, and depraved, but isn’t that what crime is all about?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

I’m a huge Tarantino fan. Been counting the days to Inglorious Basterds. Tarantino. A World War II Movie. Jews on the warpath. Nazis getting scalped. A plot to kill Hitler. All sounds good to me, especially given the recent slew of “Good German” movies. Interestingly, over the past month, I’ve run into a lot of Quentin backlash. A lot of conversations along the lines of, “He always just misses the mark,” or “Do you really think this is going to be good?” Huh? Whatever. Can’t concern myself with the thoughts of others. That said, finally got to see the film this weekend. Saturday night, 8 pm, nice size house and…wait for it…disappointment. I’ve got say, Basterds is a bit long in the tooth. Scenes that go on for way too long, conversations that lack tension, flabby editing. It’s a shame. The story itself is genius. The ending? Fantastic. Were there moments of brilliance? Absolutely. Tons of them scattered throughout. Acting? A-ok. But at the end of the day, any number of long-winded scenes going nowhere brought down the proceedings and derailed what could have and should have been an action-packed juggernaut. I don’t want to be too harsh, because I enjoyed a lot of the film, plus it was a pretty fun way to spend a Saturday night, and as I said, the film is filled with plenty of memorable bits. I’m not going to begrudge the guy too much. But unlike the Bear Jew, Quentin didn’t hit this one out of the park.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A New Golden Age of Sci-Fi?

A couple years back, there were a lot of think pieces on how we were entering a new golden age of television. That was fueled by a bumper crop of HBO programming (Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm), as well as some interesting strides on the network side of life. Just having watched District 9, which I loved, I’m wondering (and hoping) that we’re entering a new golden age of sci-fi. Two of my fave pics of the year would be the new Star Trek and District 9. Battlestar Galactica was the best show on tv over the past several years, and for all its cheeseball madness, I’m sucked into Lost. The 70s offered up some great sci-fi (Demon Seed, Andromeda Strain), but with a handful of exceptions, as the 80s and 90s wore on, I kind of felt that sci-fi devolved into nothing more than action films in space. The content was sucked dry and there was very little reflection on modern day problems as seen through the lens of the future. District 9 firmly has it foot planted on this latter path and it’s the number one picture in America. It’s a strange film to be in that spot. And that makes me happy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In The Style Of...

Several weeks back, I blogged about photographer Edward Burtynsky. This week, while vacationing in Northern California, I snapped several photos that, I daresay, seem inspired by his work. Here they are. Some silt floating on the waters of Lake Britton. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer On The Couch

First run movies, dvds, tv shows, oh my. It’s the vacation that keeps on giving.

Joan Rivers Comedy Roast. I don’t think I’ve watched any of these roasts on Comedy Central. I was actually looking forward to this one, being a fan of Joan Rivers. The weird thing is, if you didn’t know anything about Joan Rivers before the show, all you would know after the show is that she has had a lot of plastic surgery and that she has a dried out pussy. Honestly, it was 90 wall-to-wall minutes of plastic surgery and dried out pussy jokes. Were they funny jokes? Yes, but after 90 minutes, you want a little something more.

Funny People. Judd Apatow’s movie career has been a bit hit or miss for my likes. But I got to say I thought this movie was awesome. Funny, melancholy, crass, and dare I say it, mature. Adam Sandler plays the lonely famous guy with a life full of regrets and Seth Rogen is the up-and-coming sidekick filled with wonder and awe of the world opening up around him. Both are fantastic and Rogen, whose face and shtick I’m getting sick of, took his game up a notch and started to show some range.

G Force. Ok, let’s be frank. This wasn’t great. BUT, as far as kids movies go, it wasn’t a great action movie, as opposed to not being a great comedy. In other words, its transgressions were of a slightly different variety from the usual kid fare, which made it more tolerable than if it were a mediocre comedy. Does that make any sense? And I will say it was nice to take my son to a g-rated action movie. He dug the explosions and pyrotechnics. So that was cool.

Into Thin Air. Like I mentioned in my last post, I really dug this movie. Alexander Supertramp comes across much more sympathetic than in the book, his motivations firmly spurred on by his dysfunctional family. The film is beautifully shot and really captures Supertramp’s love of nature. Sean Penn gets big points for how well the film is adapted and structured. There are lots of stories in the book and Penn does a great job weaving them all together to make a cohesive, impactful film. It’s a great companion piece to the book.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Summer Reading

Don’t you love it when all the books you read are awesome? That’s the book-zone I’ve been in lately. Maybe it has something to do with being a teacher and being on summer vacation. As a teacher, this is the first year I’ve taken the entire summer off. I haven’t worked any odd-jobs and haven’t been embroiled in any personal projects (well a little of that, but not much). In other words, I’ve gone on vacation, slept late, ate well, and read. So here’s a brief round up. In keeping with a summer vacation state of mind, a couple of sentences at most. I mean why struggle over whole paragraphs when school’s not in session?

Queenpin by Megan Abbott. I was raving about her second novel, The Song Is You several weeks back. Her latest is Queenpin and it ups the ante in a huge way. Bristling with lust and crime, it’s the dirtiest, sexiest noir I've read since The Postman Always Rings Twice. Check it out immediately.

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. This was an impulse purchase in the airport in Sydney, found in the “Australiana” section. Read it on the plane ride home. Mysterious disappearances at a girls boarding school in the Outback. Formal, studied, creepy. Loved it. I’ve never seen the movie, but I hear it’s good.

Native Tongue by Carl Hiaasen. Love Carl Hiaasen. Can’t believe I haven’t written about him yet on this blog. Former Miami crime reporter turned novelist. Biting social critiques of the Miami politico and real estate world. Forever bemoaning the loss of his beloved Everglades to ruthless real estate developers in bed with state and county politicians. In a sense all his books are kind of the same, but they all ring strong with grand satire. If you like Terry Southern, you have to read Hiaasen. Native Tongue involves a 70 year old grandma, extremist environmental activist, some bumbling, two-bit burglars and a corrupt theme park. Skink, the rogue former ex-governor living in the Glades surviving on road kill, gets involved as well.

Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. A great, if not creepy read. A young idealist tries to survive in the wild and things don’t work out to well. I loved the idealism but still found Alexander Supertramp unsympathetic and it all made me sad. The movie, which I just watched is great and makes Supertramp a lot more sympathetic than in the book. Though I imagine people’s reactions to Supertramp in the book really range. Curious as to what other’s thought.

Man In the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick. Got 20 PK Dick novels on the shelf, yet somehow have never read this one, considered one of his best. As always, he rules. What if the Nazis and Japanese won the war? Filled with sadness, longing, religion, spirituality, and the importance of artistic expression. Isn’t there a British film from the 60s with the same premise? I know there is. Name escapes me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


The Mekons played last night in SF. Not sure why they’re here. No new record. Low key show that I found out about only two days ago. I was pretty on the fence about going. I was tired. It was Tuesday. I’ve seen ‘em a million times. I rallied, made it to the show and pretty early on I thought to myself, “Why was I even considering not coming to this show? I love this band.” I’ve loved the Mekons since purchasing a scratched, over-priced import of The Edge of The World back in 1986. $14.99 for a sealed, yet scratched record! Had to take it back to the record store, have them ship it back to England and get another copy, which arrived 60-90 days later. But hey, the band crossed my doorstep just as I was discovering country, blues and non-rock material. They came into my life at just the right time. And while not every track on every record is amazing, I probably have more of their records than any other band. And last night, they delivered in a big way. In a classic Mekons-of-old style, there were plenty of broken strings, broken accordion straps, and missing 9 volt batteries plaguing the opening half hour of the set. But no worries, the comedy team of Timms and Langford were as tight as ever and as good as anybody I saw at Sketchfest this year. Once they got their gear in order, the band ripped into a fantastic set. I remember seeing the Rolling Stones about ten years ago. It was a time when I wasn’t listening to the Stones that much. I remember being blown away by the sheer volume of hits. They’d pull out a song like It’s Only Rock and Roll, and I’d think, “Holy crap. I forgot all about this song.” Hit after hit just kept coming. That was going through my mind yesterday as the Mekons rolled through lots of choice selections from the back catalogue. Staples such as Hard To Be Human, Wild and Blue, Beaten and Broken, Hole In The Ground, Fantastic Voyage, Last Dance delivered as usual. But there were moments of “Oblivion! Abernant! Have I ever heard them play these live?” The answer is probably, but hell, that was a long time ago and it all sounded so damn good last night. Even with Tom Greenhalgh missing in action, Lu Edmonds and Rico Bell filled in nicely on vocals. And the new material focused heavily on last year’s Natural, a record I like enough, but don't think their best. But live that material sounded great and will definitely make me take another listen. Moral of the story. If one of you’re favorite bands are playing, don’t be a fool. Just go to the damn show.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Welcome To Australia, Pt. IV: The Great Ocean Road

Before heading to Australia, I definitely had my eye on the Great Ocean Road, a 200 km road along the ocean in Southern Victoria. What photos I had seen looked spectacular, and my Melbournian friend Martyn had highly recommended it as well. I was still a bit on the fence given the two day chunk it would take out of my stay in Melbourne, not to mention the transport issue. To travel the road my options were a) rent a car and drive on the wrong side road, b) borrow Martyn’s car and contend not only with the wrong side of the road, but also with a manual shift on the wrong side of my body or c) get on a tour bus with a bunch of tourists. Ultimately I chose not to deal with humans or risk wrecking Martyn’s auto. I rented a car and went on down the road. Hands down the GOR was the highlight of my Australian trip. Absolutely breathtaking. Though it’s winter down here, I was accompanied by blue skies, white billowy clouds, giant rainbows, and the golden glow of a sparkling, sunny day. The day was crisp and spring-like, the evening offered an autumnal chill descending into winter. The road offered up beautiful vista after beautiful vista. Sandy beaches, rugged, rough hewn orangey cliffs, rolling green pasturelands dotted with cows and sheep, rain forests, and the postcard perfect 12 Apostles—a series of 12 monolithic rock structures off the coast near Port Campbell. Truly stunning. If you’re ever in Australia, you’ve got to do this drive. And the wrong side of the road thing…kind of fun.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Welcome To Australia, Pt. III: Minescapes

Since being in Australia, I've learned a lot about Aussie history, culture and economics. From what I gather, the economy of Western Australia (home to Perth) is all about mineral wealth, with mining playing a central role in the region's development. Had the pleasure of seeing an amazing photo exhibit by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky at the Australian Centre For Photography. Burtynsky's photos are absolutely magnificent. They're large format, large scale (appx. 5' x 5') aerial photographs of mining sites. They stunningly showcase the impact of industry on the landscape. Additionally, the formal structure of the photos creates a world that is simultaneously concrete and abstract. Worth seeking out.